Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Greg Hatcher Legacy Files #56: ‘The Annual Inventory, 2015 Edition’

[Our Former Dread Lord and Master shows up in the comments to this post, which went up on 7 February 2015. Greg bemoans his title-killing powers, and we all laugh, but what if it were true?!?!? Enjoy!]

It’s that time of year when I look at the pull list I have with my local retailer and decide what stays and what goes. Join me, won’t you?

I do this once a year, more or less. This year I’m a little early because a lot of the titles I was getting are ending soon, or the creative teams are changing, or something like that. Plus DC’s shaking up its entire line again, which got me thinking about maybe making some changes to the list.

The other part of this annual ritual is asking myself if I even want to keep a pull list at all, or just go trades-only. Despite all the common-sense economic arguments against it, somehow again I landed on yeah, I’ll keep it; mostly because there are still some books I don’t want to wait for, and also because quite a few of these are titles that tend to be marginal, sales-wise, and I want to support them.

So I’m hanging in there with the list one more year. Here’s what’s currently on it, in no particular order.

One of the nicest surprises of the last year for me was the return of Spider-Man 2099. I’ve already written a couple of times in this space about how much I like that title and I won’t go over it all again, except to add that one of my LEAST favorite things in modern superhero comics is making creators tie in to the giant crossover of the moment. Right now Spider-Man 2099 is snarled up in “Spider-Verse,” and it is annoying me no end. Peter David has managed to write his chapters of this thing in such a way that I don’t feel completely dissatisfied when I get to the end of the issue, but DAMN I hope this is over soon. This title was hitting a nice groove with Miguel here in our era and all the attendant intrigue with Tyler Stone and Liz Allan at Alchemax, and I’m really hoping the book gets back to that stuff. I do have to admit that the overall concept of “Spider-verse,” teaming up all these Spider-heroes from various parallel universes, is a conceit that tickles me and I probably will be picking up the collected edition at some point down the road. But to be honest, the idea that crossovers bring in new readers has never really worked for me — more often than not, a title that gets mired in tying in to a lot of other ones loses me as a reader, it’s the opposite effect of what I presume is the intention of getting readers to try other books. I can think of exactly ONE time that strategy was successful with me … long, long ago, when Dr. Strange crossed over with Tomb of Dracula, I liked the Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan combo on the Dracula title enough to keep getting it. But that was IT. Most of the time, crossover tie-in issues of a comic I normally enjoy just get on my nerves. But David is doing his best to keep these readable, and I’m really wanting this title to go the distance, so I’m still on board with it.

I admit it. I am completely in the tank for the IDW Star Trek books. They are doing a great job with these … both the regular ongoing title and various mini-series like The City on the Edge of Forever adaptation, John Byrne’s New Visions, and so on and so on. At this point I’m enjoying it all so much that I’m pretty much saying, whatever, I’m in, bring it all on. The ongoing title just finished up the six-part “The Q Gambit,” which was tremendous fun and managed to stay ahead of all the guesses I had about where it was going. One of the pleasures of this particular title is that writer Mike Johnson keeps taking the Abrams version of Star Trek and bumping it up against characters and stories from the original version, and this six-part crossover that incorporated both Q and the Deep Space Nine crew was a good time. The art has been stronger lately as well; they’re still doing the rotating artist thing, which I guess keeps them on schedule, but the nice thing is that the guys they use are pretty consistent. It never feels jarring visually, and the likenesses are good without ever looking lightboxed.

I had expressed doubts about the continuity nightmares that would ensue trying to do a Star Trek – Planet of the Apes crossover. Specifically, when it was first announced, I had mentioned my conversation with Mike Gillis over at Radio Vs. The Martians about this book in a previous column and how we were agreed that it was going to be brilliant or it was going to be awful. After that column went up, Scott Tipton emailed me to say “Please give us a chance.” That shocked me because, jeez, people at IDW read this thing? Nevertheless, I assured him I would.

Well, two issues in, I can say that I am absolutely swooningly in love with this mini-series. It just makes me happy. This is against all the odds — because when you get right down to it, these are two SF franchises that have nothing in common, not even a similar point of view. Star Trek was always very upbeat and optimistic, it was born of that sixties Kennedyesque Pioneer Spirit. Planet of the Apes, on the other hand, was deeply pessimistic and generally espoused the position that we were going to screw ourselves no matter what. But it’s those very differences that Scott and David Tipton are keying in on and assembling into the engine that drives the thing. Everyone sounds and acts like they should, whether it’s Kirk and Spock or Cornelius and Zira.

For those of you (like Mike and me) that are huge nerds and want to know how the hell they make the timelines fit, the story seems to take place somewhere in the space between Taylor and Nova finding the Statue of Liberty at the end of the first movie and Taylor getting captured by the mutants in the second movie. For the Trekkies, the Star Trek component of things involves the Enterprise crew during the original five-year mission, shortly after “Errand of Mercy.”

The art from Rachael Stott is really good too, especially considering how many likenesses a job like this involves portraying, and I don’t mean to slight the work she’s doing. But the story is what owns me. It’s just a fan-fiction romp, and I mean that in the best possible way. It helps that reading this, one can’t help but picture the young Shatner versus the young Heston in a scenery-chewing contest for the ages and I strongly suspect the Tiptons are evoking that image deliberately. In any case, I’m really digging it.

Aquaman from Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier continues to delight me. Parker is writing the Aquaman that I like reading about — the back-to-basics Aquaman that I remember from way back, the classic Skeates-Cardy-Aparo version. The problem everyone at DC has had with the character since the mid-seventies is they keep trying to FIX him and solve problems that never existed in the first place. Parker has wisely avoided fixing what isn’t broken. He just gives us the King of the Seven Seas protecting the oceans, with Mera at his side, heavy on the action and light on the angst. And he keeps throwing clever curves that always result in me slapping my forehead and muttering, jeez, why didn’t anyone else think of that? Ideas like Aquaman taking Mera as his date to his high school reunion in the little seaside town where he grew up as Arthur Curry, or King Solovar of Gorilla City receiving Aquaman as a fellow monarch while Mera’s shaking her head at the idea of a city full of talking gorillas. It’s just plain fun. I’m terrified that the word is going to get out on what a hoot this title has become and it’ll all be over, DC will want to reboot it or incorporate it into some sort of mega-event crossover thing. So far Aquaman has escaped both Future’s End and Forever Evil relatively unscathed and I hope to God that keeps up. Just stay away from everyone else, keep the stories relatively isolated and in the underwater part of the DC universe, and give me crazy shit like Aquaman punching it out with Gorilla Grodd. I’m a simple man, my needs are few.

What else? Daredevil and Hulk have both been keepers for the last couple of years, but I’m not enjoying Gerry Duggan’s “Doc Green” storyline in Hulk nearly as much as I was liking Mark Waid’s “Bruce Banner Agent of Shield” thing that the title started with.

And with Waid and Samnee leaving Daredevil that one’s on the bubble too. I guess we’ll see when the new creative team arrives on DD, but it wouldn’t take much to knock these two off the list at that point.

Princess Ugg is definitely a keeper. This is another title that I’ve talked about quite a bit but it just keeps getting BETTER. My wife Julie settled in with the whole run here a few days ago and was as taken with it as I have been. She got kind of quiet as she was reading it and started to scowl a little, and finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. “What’s the matter?”

“The villain is named Julie,” she said, a little plaintively. “She’s awful.”

“Uh –” Honestly, this hadn’t occurred to me at all. “She spells it differently,” I offered, a little desperately. “I think of her as Princess Julifer. It never crossed my mind that it was your name, and anyway it’s not.”

“Well, that’s true, I guess.” She brightened. “But it is really good. And funny.”

It is. And even if your name is Julie, you’ll probably still like it.

Most of my beloved pulp-hero titles from Dynamite have gone, leaving only the occasional mini-series or special. I’m ambivalent about the new Elseworlds-type one-shots starring Doc Savage and the Shadow that are coming up, and probably will pass on them.

But The Lone Ranger: Vindicated is wonderful and as long as I get a mini-series like this once a year or so, I’ll be satisfied. Dynamite has had several different creative teams working on the Ranger since they first got the license back in 2006 and they have all done superlative work. The wonderful thing about the Dynamite version of the Ranger is that they’re giving us the classic version of the character but planted him firmly in a tough, gritty, spaghetti-western sort of milieu, with the additional advantage of historical hindsight. It’s what the big-budget Ranger movie should have been (and I’m still pretty irritated that it wasn’t. God save us from snobs like Johnny Depp trying to re-invent stuff that was already perfectly serviceable.)

But never mind that. The point is, Vindicated is really good and I am just enjoying the hell out of it. After years on Jonah Hex, you can be sure Justin Gray knows how to write a tough, cool western story. The art from Rey Villegas has a somewhat subtler look than you usually see from Dynamite, their guys tend to favor heavy lines with a lot of spot blacks. But the lighter hand really works here.

Anyone who’s ever met me will know that I’m getting Batman ’66 and Shaft, and I am enjoying both of those a great deal as well.

It’s nice that DC is putting out at least one Batman book that I like. If there’s no Batbooks in the pile anywhere in a month I feel weirdly like I’m not really buying comics. It’s childish, but there it is.

And Shaft is quite a bit different than I had expected; I was thinking it would be more of a groovy blaxploitation riff, but it’s actually a straight-up noir crime thing, owing a lot more to Ernest Tidyman’s original novels than to the movies. Which is all to the good, and Bilquis Evely is really outdoing herself on the art. Pity it’s just a mini-series, but maybe we’ll get more if this one does well. It’s rare that Greg Burgas and I overlap, so if we’re BOTH saying thumbs-up on these two titles, you can be assured they’re good stuff.

An impulse buy that has turned into one of my favorite new things from Marvel has to be Mark Waid’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s based-on/inspired-by/happening-solely-because-of the television show. Julie and I do watch the show but invariably we want to like it better than we do, and it doesn’t have nearly the zest that the current Agent Carter television show has shown. But all the things that we’ve crabbed about regarding the show are blessedly absent from the comic-book version. I’ve always felt that, of the current group of mainstream comics writers, Mark Waid is easily the best straight-up superhero action guy out there. There’s no one better at putting a fresh twist on a classic while still keeping it a classic. His take on Phil Coulson and SHIELD is exactly what I want from a superhero comic book and I hope to Christ they just let him do his thing. It’s smart and funny and the first two done-in-one issues felt like a wonderful cross between Steranko’s SHIELD and the best of Marvel Team-Up.

Waid’s take on it is that Coulson knows the superheroes of the Marvel universe better than anyone else and he uses that knowledge as the ultimate strategic advantage against the mega-threat of the moment. I’m going to hang around for this one, with my fingers crossed that it’ll get to keep going as it is. It seems lately like every time I get attached to a title it gets canceled or revamped. I’m hoping that SHIELD‘s status as a TV tie-in sort of book means it’s safe from crossover fever.

(Not to keep banging that drum, but it DOES really put me off.)

Anyway. For now, that’s the list. Everything else is trades. But these are the ones I can’t stand to wait for.

See you next week.

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